It was during a facial in New York City that an aesthetician made me first aware that my combination skin was super dehydrated. I’d always considered my skin to be plain ole combination so this caught me by surprise. All the signs were there: oily T-zone, semi enlarged pores, normal cheeks, and a chin that can sometimes be prone to seasonal dryness. What I didn’t know was that my skin had been hanging on to every water molecule so hard that the aesthetician was having a difficult time with the extractions. Ten years later, I can confidently say there isn’t a day that I don’t use a product with Hyaluronic Acid as a key ingredient. Do YOU need it? Most likely.
If seeing the word acid triggers all sorts of fear in you, relax. Hyaluronic Acid has nothing to do with Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids like Glycolic or Salicylic and it won’t speed up cellular turnover or exfoliate in any way. Read: there will be no peeling nor resurfacing. It’s a strictly hydrating ingredient that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. This means the HA molecule binds using water on and in the skin (since our bodies are mostly water) to provide a supple, healthy, and bouncy appearance to the skin. You’ll find it listed on most inci lists of serums, mists, face masks, and even cleansers.
Hyaluronic Acid vs Sodium Hyaluronate
Oftentimes you will notice mention of either or both ingredients whenever a formula claims to hydrate, soften, plump, and smooth out the appearance of fine lines. Here’s the (subtle but important) difference: Hyaluronic Acid works on surface-level issues while Sodium Hyalurnoate (salt form of Hyaluronic Acid) is water soluble and of lower molecular level, which allows it to penetrate deeper within the skin.
With that said
There are *countless* Hyaluronic Acid products on the market. Hundreds. I’m pretty sure every brand has a self-proclaimed HA hero in their line. The edit that follows is based strictly on my personal preference taking into account my own user experience and results. For reference, I very much disliked The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics because of its thin, watery consistency and had no luck with Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost collection (way too sticky). I also don’t believe there is a need to spend $300 on an Hyaluronic Acid serum. (You have a lovely enzyme face wash, Dr. Sturm but come on now.)
ARCONA Magic White Ice
This has been my go-to hydrating serum for well over a decade. In addition to Sodium Hyaluronate, ARCONA includes a cornucopia of antioxidants in this lotion-like formula. Magic White Ice is packed with White Tea and Cranberry Extracts, soothing Aloe Vera, and cell strengthening Lilac Leaf Stem Culture. It’s important to mention that my combination skin does best with serums containing Tea Tree, Apple Fruit, and Witch Hazel — botanicals known to purify the skin and prevent pore congestion. Another reason I reach for this bottle most often is its pump dispenser. Because convenience. The all natural fragrance of crisp, juicy cranberry is mouthwatering. $46 (35ml) skinstore.com
Ghost Democracy Floodgate Hyaluronic Acid Serum
I find everything to be just right about the Ghost Democracy Floodgate Serum. The liquigel formula consists of 2.1% Hyaluronic Acid, 4% Niacinamide and antioxidant rich Linden Flower and White Tea Leaf Extracts. There is no fragrance, oil, silicone, or alcohol so even if your skin leans more sensitive, this will make for a great pick. It absorbs in seconds and leaves my skin instantly hydrated. On most hot summer days, all my skin needs is a half dropper-full of Floodgate and broad-spectrum SPF. $34 (30ml) ghostdemocracy.com
Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate
Hydrate does way more than that. In addition to the hydrating hero, Sodium Hyaluronate, the lightweight serum also includes a stable form of Vitamin C to brighten the skin, and firming Hexapeptides and botanical extracts such as Tamarind, Cucumber, and Aloe to soothe and calm the skin. Personally, this Jordan Samuel Skin formula is a favorite when it comes to mixing with a face oil at night, especially if said oil contains Retinol. $29 (30ml) jordansemuelskin.com
Susanne Kaufmann Hyaluron Serum
Over the last two years, I’ve discovered some very impressive eco-luxe finds in the Susanne Kaufmann range of skincare. The Hyaluron Serum is one of them. It’s elegant, effective, and features exactly five ingredients for a no-frill skin plumping performance. This ultra-light treatment is powered by multi molecular weight Hyaluronic Acid, which delivers much needed hydration to both the skin’s surface as well as deep within the dermis. It makes my complexion look visibly more fresh immediately. $168 (30ml) dermstore.com
OSEA Malibu Hyaluronic Sea Serum
If you’re looking for a clean and green Hyaluronic Acid serum, OSEA is not to be missed. It uses three types of varying molecular weight HA combined with three organic Seaweed Extracts, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This truly concentrated treatment boosts the skin’s hydration levels and delivers a healthy glow over time. The silky texture dries in seconds but doesn’t leave the skin feeling tight, just the opposite — my face feels super soft. $88 (30ml) aillea.com
MUKTI Hyaluronic Marine Serum
Part of a Beauty Heroes discovery a few months ago, this gem is my emergency HA treatment after a late night or one too many glasses of wine at dinner. It’s the juiciest formula in my stash and almost feels like a gel. MUKTI utilizes Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid with Wakame Seaweed Extract for an impressive punch of hydration with anti-inflammatory Blue Tansy and Elderflower Extract to deliver extreme makeover level glow. There is a light Blue Tansy scent but it doesn’t linger for more than a minute. I really enjoy it. $91 (30ml) beauty-heroes.com
PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum
Ever since my introduction to PCA Skin, I continue to be amazed by their science driven and results oriented formulas. The HA Boosting Serum is richer than most hydrating serums in my lineup but it glides on the skin easily and absorbs instantly. In addition to multiple forms of Hyaluronic Acid, this intensive treatment also features the brand’s proprietary HA Pro-Complex™ that stimulates the skin to produce its own Hyaluronic Acid — how genius is that? The ingredient deck also highlights Niacinamide and Ceramides for a much appreciated anti-aging boost. $115 (30ml) skinstore.com
It’s best to apply your Hyaluronic Acid serum on slightly damp skin to maximize its water binding powers. If you don’t use mists or essences, be sure your skin is slightly damp after cleansing before you pat in your HA treatment. Personally, I apply a few drops to my skin before whatever essence I am currently enjoying hasn’t fully absorbed. If you use multiple serums, I find Hyaluronic Acid formulas to be very user friendly when it comes to cocktailing (if your C & E serum tends to feel a bit sticky, mix it with your Hyaluronic and it will absorb much better).
If you have no room for a new serum
There is a chance you lack the space or patience (or time) to incorporate another serum into your routine simply for some added hydration. And, many products you already use include Hyaluronic Acid though maybe not in the concentration necessary for their ranking as sole hydrating super heroes. Here are a few options to amp up your regimen on days/nights your skin feels parched.
- If you’re looking for a hydrating toner that feels like an essence, the Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion (around $15) is one of my all time best Amazon finds. While Hada Labo has a line made for the US, this Japanese import is sadly not available Stateside. The juicy, viscous texture has a slight slip to it but dries without feeling sticky. It’s all about deep hydration without any extras.
- Sheet mask fan? The Dr Jart+ Vital Hydra Solution™ ($6) formula is superb at plumping up fatigued skin. It’s also a travel must-have as the mega dose of hydration is an excellent jet lag fighter.
- Contemplating a new moisturizer? The Origins GinZing Oil-Free Gel Moisturizer ($30) combines Sodium Hyaluronate with Niacinamide and energizing Ginseng, Caffeine, and Cucumber Extracts to make your skin feel hydrated and revitalized.
- If you’re into face mists, the Sweet Chef Chill Mist ($17) is just fantastic. The spray component dispenses the finest mist which feels both hydrating and refreshing. The formula contains Sodium Hyaluronate as well as glow boosting extracts of Red Seaweed, Ginger, Cucumber, and of course probiotic-rich Kombucha.